Reviewer: Margaret H
To me, this is an outstandingly good book. I loved it. It is gothic romance, mystery and suspense, detailing the stories of a group of well-drawn characters, spanning five generations in a complicated story that involves them all, one way or another.
I felt the main character, the narrator, Margaret Lea is a projection of the author Diane Setterfield. How else can she encapsulate what it is to love reading, not just words on a page, but deep, joyful experience of being totally absorbed by a story and giving yourself up to it. She describes exactly how I always loved reading, my earliest, memories are of discovering stories, endless amounts of them for me to read in my head. She teases out the real meanings of words and makes observations that speak to me ‘people that can’t put aside truth and accuracy for a good tale make dull companions’. She sees the difference between similar words and the impression they can leave – ‘slim and slight’. I loved her estimation of the character of the doctor’s wife, Mrs. Maudsley, it was exquisite. Aside from what happens in the story in the lives of the Angelfield family, runs the theme of the mystical connection between twins. This is something often studied but not as beautifully written as this. The grief of separation either by distance or death is a very real factor.
When sensible, clever Hester joins the chaotic lives of Madeline and Emmeline and Angelfield itself, a rock is thrown in to the pond. The unconscious love that grows between Hester and Dr Maudsley is so subtly portrayed you are hardly aware of it until they are.
The mystery surrounding the identity of Vida Winter swirls around, I think I am still not quite sure and wonder if the author intended this. She certainly makes nothing too obvious, Margaret Lea has to work hard to unravel the various mysteries that connect them all together. Her various characters are subjected to her analytical comment which seems to me to be grounded in Miss Marple like observation of real life people.
Passages that stood out for me:
It was various comments and observations that were so accurately written that I loved ‘there was a stirring in me, but not of me’, ‘no-one can hold you to a decision made in the middle of the night’ ‘the white zone that looks like inattention’ and most of all ‘do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you?’
I particularly liked the postscript, were, Margaret finally gives the name of her twin – ‘Moria’ and conjoins again spiritually and emotionally and is finally able to be at peace with her loss and live as a whole person rather than being just half of a whole.
We have twins in our family and have often speculated on their connections. Some twins have none! I felt that the author wove many strands of thought so deftly that it was much more than a really good story. It is a tough one to articulate and encapsulate this very complicate book but I felt very much that it is about reading itself, the joy of reading, reading a tale, and loving a story. It all spoke to me and resonates with me.
As you can tell, I loved all of it, it is pretty hard to deliver a denouement that lives up to the narrative like this, but I was still thinking about it for days after I had finished and indeed it hadn’t left me when I started reading the next book. The ending was a long one, but one that set things to rights. The whole snowy moors setting, the Wuthering Heights flavour to it all put me in mind of last line of Jane Eyre – ‘Reader, I married him’.
Reviewer: Janet J
The story is based around the twins Emmeline and Adeline, children who are neither wanted or loved by either their father or their mother and are left to battle the world with little help but plenty of hindrance from the only two constants in their life, the Missus and John-the dig. There is also a third child who manages to survive against all the odds. This other child is the cousin of Emmeline and Adeline, born as a result of rape and left at Angelfield House to fend as best she can, unaware that Charlie March is her father. She too is supported by the Missus and John- the dig. She is the story-teller - she is Vida Winter who has inherited Angelfield, who looks after Adeline and who had desperately loved the gentle Emmeline.
However the twins are inseparable nevertheless through Adeline’s jealousy of Emmeline’s tiny baby, Adolphous, their world is destroyed. Not only Angelfield but also the gentle, lovable Emmeline.
This novel defines all the passions embraced by the great writers, of deeply flawed individuals who manage to survive the deepest tragedies through love and violence and yet embrace the gentleness and kindness of mankind, not in an obvious way but in a sly, manipulative way. The content of the story is simple like Peter Pan but it is so convoluted, just like a corkscrew that the reasoning pulls the reader through the whole plot.
The author recommends ‘The Woman in White‘ by Wilkie Collins, allegedly the first mystery ever written , to the reader. Totally agree. This is another book that gently guides the reader through the pages step by step in an ordinary landscape about ordinary people, just like the Thirteenth Tale.
Throughout the whole novel Vida Winter is contrary but also predictable, she is an old lady recounting the happenings of people before she was born and in turn managing to recount a most gripping tale, where the end - her death - is inevitable but everything else is a mystery. Talk about looking through a glass darkly!! The novel exacts every ounce of energy the reader has to give by never giving a clue about what is about to happen. Also it allows characters to drift away without any explanation. The governess, Miss Hester Barrow, just flies away from the book and the order she bring to Angelfield House is replaced yet again by chaos.
The book was all about the indefinable closeness of some sets of twins. How nothing can come between them even if they are mentally disturbed. How the need for the closeness of the one to the other is indescribable. The sheer misery caused by separating them so that they cannot reach each other is the key to the misery of Miss Winter who has no real twin but feels she has two siblings rather than one and also of Margaret Lea. I liked the book from the very point where Margaret met Miss Vida Winter.
Reviewer: Su R
A Gothic tale about a dying writer who employs a biographer to tell her true life story ‘The Thirteenth Tale’. Nothing stood out for me in this book.
About a 1/3 way through I knew I didn’t like the book – I read it all, but it’s just not my kind of book – I wasn’t interested in finding ‘the truth’ about Vida Winter.
Reviewer: Eric S
A young lady attempts to write the life story of a famous author and gets more than she bargains for.After the first few pages you will either finish or put it down! But it is worth carrying on.
Jane Gordon-Cumming - A Proper Family Christmas
Reviewer: Mrs O
William lives alone in this large mansion which is neglected . His only company is the cat scratch and his housekeeper . William is not into Christmas ,he would prefer to spend it alone watching TV.
However his relatives are very keen to ensure that Haseley house does end up in the right hand.
Hillary William 's daughter in law is also not looking forward to Christmas be cause this is her first Christmas alone and David her son will be away from home. However Margery Williams daughter bullied Hillary into accompany her to Haseley house for Christmas which she accepts reluctantly.
William doesn't mind Hillary coming for Christmas because he hid rather fond of her and her son David. And Hilary's husband was his favourite son. Leo another unpopular member of the family decides to give Hillary a lift . Stephen William ’s son and the daughter in law suddenly decides to visit Haseley with their son Tobin .The nanny is shy and was bullied into accompanying them, even though she's would prefer to spend Christmas with her family and not at Haseley house .Stephen wife Leslie appear very snobbish and often treat the nanny very badly. Stephen main reason to spend Christmas at Haseley house is to get his father into a care home and to get him to write a will. He his encouraged by his overbearing wife Leslie who spoils her son Tobin. Stephen sister and her philandering husband Tony with her daughter also decides to Spend Christmas at Haseley house with their very outgoing nanny. They also have an hidden agenda re Haseley house.
William sister Margery decides also to bring a friend who is interested in old houses, Williams housekeeper seems very interested in this sudden interests from Williams family appears quite keen ,to find out why the sudden interests from William s family. On arrival of the family William tries not to communicate and continues with his usual routine at times uncooperative and turns up the TV loudly . This at times does annoy some of the family. He also at times could be a little cunning .William is very much aware of their ploy and their label of him being eccentric old man however William is quite cunning and is ready to play them at their own game.
The characters that I liked the most is Hillary she treats William with great respect and dignity.
She appears very caring and is not has self absorbed as most of the others .I also liked Oliver who also was very thoughtful and caring. I was not keen on Stephen or his wife . Stephen was dominated by his wife who is a social climber obsessed by status,she was also an overbearing mother.
The passage that stood out was the way in which the family tried to get William to make a will and they way in which some was quite happy to put in a home so that they could inherit Haseley .I found it was a page turner , perhaps because it was that time of year . But I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Reviewer: Su R
A jolly Christmas family romp with expected and unexpected, mishaps, misunderstandings and love affairs. An old head of the family living in a big old pile has to put up with all the relations over Christmas – all wanting him sign a will in their favour. One or two others are nice people and get together for a happy ever after.
Hard to dislike – but I did ‘romp’ through it – no surprises!
Reviewer: Eric S
All about a family not invited to stay for Christmas but turn up anyway!!
I started too really like this when the family started to invite each other not wanting to be left out of the celebrations. A good read.
Reviewer: Margaret H
A wily and rich old man, William, has his predatory and cunning family imposed upon him for Xmas in his valuable mansion. Needless to say, certain family members have their eyes on his fortune and are rapacious in going about getting hold of it. However others are honourable and loyal family members, with a couple of outsiders to liven up the mix! This is a light-hearted and amusing tale, which rollicks along at breath taking speed. On the surface of it the characters are rather stereotypical, but the author’s wry observations on their thoughts and actions rescue this and the characters game far more depth through this. They actually have great appeal, particularly Hilary, William and Oliver, and are not as simplistic as they first appear.
It’s amazing how much happens in three days! Romances are sorted out, ‘all names are returned to their rightful owners’ and no harm done. I could easily see this as a play, a romantic comedy with some sharp twists and turns and observations on human hopes and ambitions.
Once again, it is not a book I would have chosen to pick up and read but I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the speed of the whole narrative and the good – humoured mocking of the characters by the author.
A new word ‘GENE’ still don’t know what it means!
Early on the underlying humour and irony made itself felt. You understand that all is not quite as it seems and you know that far from being a victim, William is actually in charge.
Stuart MacBride - Cold Granite
Reviewer: Eric S
Police officers struggle to save children from abuse.
Very well written with dark humour, good characters, keeps you turning the pages. This is a read that grabs you from page one!
Reviewer: Su R
Winter in Aberdeen, murder, mayhem and terrible weather. A D.S. Logan McRae—who dunnit. Serial killer and a couple of other killers wreak havoc in the winter and more and more children go missing…..
It is a really good read—the characters seemed well formed, familiar funny and very Scottish!
Unfortunately I learnt a lot about post mortems in gruesome detail!
I liked this book from the beginning—it didn’t seem like a first detective novel.
Reviewer: Margaret H
This novel starts with the discovery of a child’s body which triggers an investigation by the police force of Aberdeen. The plot expands to include different crime scenarios of child murder and abduction, it is a gruesome choice of subject matter but is readable, instead of being unbearable, because the author handles it, though, the dialogue, in a very matter of fact way. He doesn’t indulge in sentimentality over the victims. The narrative and the dynamics of the novel are driven by the interplay of the police officers who are all well drawn characters.
I particularly liked DI Insch and his never ending chomping on sweeties and WPC Watson with her flashes of brilliance with DS McRae as the recently recovered hero of a previous crime, make a good team. The story has many threads to it so the bafflement for the reader goes on a bit too long. You need to be ‘thrown a bone’ along the way as you get fed up with the lack of progress in the case. I was expecting a breakthrough for a long time.
No passage really stood out, but this is an author I would choose to read again. I liked it when I realised that it was going to be a good yarn, not over indulging in the horror and grief of child murder and abduction, just setting about finding the killer.
Rebecca Tope - A Cotswold Killing
Reviewer: Janet J
Thea Osborne is a novice when it comes to dog/house sitting at Brook View, Duntisbourne Abbots in the Cotswolds. This is her first assignment and she was looking forward to the three week stint. Thea and Hepzibah (her pet spaniel) met Clive Reynolds and his wife before they took off for Barbados and a cruise, but the instructions he gave and the lists he left behind proved a bit too much for Thea because there were so many of them, what with sheep, gates, perimeter lights, weather forecasts, houseplants etc. plus the two Labradors and the fountain. There was certainly a lot to do and check but she quickly settled down and went to sleep on her first night only to be awoken at three forty-five by what she thought may have been a scream or possibly foxes. Next day on her return from a walk to the village Thea came across a body half submerged in the sheep’s watering hole. Policemen, questions, identification of the body as the farmer who had introduced himself to Thea the previous day as Joel Jennison, her neighbour. This was the second death in the village, the first being Joel’s brother Paul.
Over the next three weeks the intrigues of the villagers and the environs became less clear although Thea did gain the confidence of Harry and Helen, June and Hollis, Martin and Isabel (or so she thought) with her policeman brother-in-law seemingly a player for the police but at a distance. The village like all communities has any number of secrets, some shared between the group and some totally geared toward the individual. Thea tried to align herself to the neighbours who she felt could help her to understand what really was going on, not least the rather subdued young people who seemed to come and go at regular intervals from the non-farm, Fairweather. Without a shop, a Post Office, a Bank or a Public House in the village there was no communal meeting place, only ad hoc ‘collaborations’.
I really did not feel at ease with any of the characters, perhaps because the story was always undermined by the feeling of duplicity from everyone and honesty being the biggest casualty.
I was not sure whether it was about an amateur sleuth, murders of no relevance, drug users, lost children, incompetent policemen or super rich individuals trying to protect the value of their property. The author seemed to pretty accurately identify that people will try to protect what they have if they perceive their way of life is under threat and also that they only feel safe if they stick within the group.
Reviewer: Margaret H
A recently widowed 40 something, takes on a house sitting job. Looking after dogs and sheep as well, only to find herself at the centre of a murder mystery set in the Cotswolds.
This is a fairly long way from a ripping yarn. I did not find it credible, why Thea appoints herself as a detective to solve the mystery never seems to make any sense, and why the author ignores the police force through most of the novel is also bafflement.
The whole plot is flat and dull somehow, but the biggest mystery is why Thea feels entitled to knock on peoples doors – strangers – and question them! I just hope its never turned into a TV series. There are so many holes in the story, I found it a very lightweight novel. The passage that stood out for me was probably when she decided to go and check on the sheep because I couldn’t for the life of me, what she could possibly know about them!
At the point in the book when she decided it was up to her to start calling in around the neighbours and find out what she could, it lost credibility with me.
Reviewer: Eric S
A lady takes a job house sitting – but gets more than she bargains for. Too many characters, storyline not strong enough, outcome lame!